Verdine White, the bass player in Earth, Wind & Fire, holds it down and lights a fire under the groove like no one else can. Whenever I hear a gorgeous bass sound like that, whether it’s from a cello, a djembe, a baritone sax, a roll of thunder, or a human voice, the air around me is instantly alive and in tune.
Where would even the most beautiful melody be without the bass for its dancing partner? Where would our most beautiful moments be without the tension and challenge of the toughest times? We would be sorry creatures indeed if all we heard were the melodies, if an easy life were all we experienced. As usual, George MacDonald says it best:
“Sometimes it seems pure natural to trust,
And trust right largely, grandly, infinitely,
Daring the splendor of the giver’s part;
At other times, the whole earth is but dust,
The sky is dust, yea, dust the human heart;
Then thou art nowhere, there is no room for thee
In the great dust-heap of eternity.
“But why should it be possible to mistrust—
Nor possible only, but its opposite hard?
Why should not man believe because he must—
By sight’s compulsion? Why should he be scarred
With conflict? worn with doubting fine and long?
No man is fit for heaven’s musician throng
Who has not tuned an instrument all shook and jarred.”
(From Diary of an Old Soul, August 29-30 entries)
I’m the last person to welcome tragedy or setbacks of any kind. Yet when shock, sorrow, or grief thwart our ability to embrace the goodness of life, the lowest tones cry out from the cavernous deep of our souls. Without those lows to ground us, to temper and sweeten the highs, our life would be a tinny, foolish child-melody without substance.
This week’s Torah portion, true to form, has something to say about facing calamity and terror. In Deuteronomy 18:16, Moses reminds the people that when they had the chance to see God face to face, they were too terrified, literally to death, saying “I can no longer hear the voice of Hashem, my God, and this great fire I can no longer see, so that I shall not die.” Who among us doesn’t run for the hills when confronted with something so unfathomable, so overwhelming, that we fear the experience could kill us?
We would spend our entire lives running in fear if it were not for the one who has given it all in order to stand as our protector and guide, the one holding up the bass notes from the deep. As it says in the Haftorah (Isaiah 52:7 and 52:9):
“How pleasant are the footsteps of the herald upon the mountains announcing peace, heralding good tidings, announcing salvation, saying unto Zion, ‘Your God has reigned!’” and “Burst out, sing glad song in unison, O ruins of Jerusalem, for Hashem will have comforted His people; He will have redeemed Jerusalem.”
So, shall we listen to the herald on the mountaintop and tune up?